Democratic Socialists Want Bernie Sanders to Raise Their Profile

The Democratic Socialists of America are using a 501(c)(4) to help out the surging presidential candidate. But they’re also looking to boost themselves.

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Meskwaki Tribal Center in Tama, Iowa, September 4, 2015.
Bloomberg AFP/Getty
Eric Garcia
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Eric Garcia
Sept. 14, 2015, 10:48 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders fre­quently talks about the need for a polit­ic­al re­volu­tion. The Demo­crat­ic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica are on board, and they’re will­ing to spend money to boost his can­did­acy as a means of rais­ing aware­ness about their ideo­logy.

Ac­cord­ing to its Ju­ly quarterly re­port to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, the Demo­crat­ic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica Inc., the group’s 501(c)(4), from April 1 to Ju­ly 15 of this year had $741 in total con­tri­bu­tions and spent $10,939.66 in in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ures, with many of the item­ized re­ceipts be­ing re­im­burse­ments to em­ploy­ees for the cost of air­fare or spend­ing on small things like cam­paign but­tons, of­fice sup­plies, or mak­ing cop­ies, along with salary for em­ploy­ees. All of the in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ures were lis­ted as be­ing used to sup­port Sanders.

A 48-hour re­port filed on Au­gust 26 shows money be­ing spent for fun­drais­ing calls in Iowa City for the pur­pose of sup­port­ing Sanders, among oth­er ex­pendit­ures.

DSA mem­bers, its web­site says, “share a vis­ion of a hu­mane in­ter­na­tion­al or­der based on both demo­crat­ic plan­ning and mar­ket mech­an­isms that equit­able dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources, mean­ing­ful work,” as well as a clean en­vir­on­ment and ra­cial and gender equal­ity, among oth­er things. The or­gan­iz­a­tion said it has 6,500 mem­bers.

The DSA has a his­tory of sup­port­ing Sanders, who de­scribes him­self as a demo­crat­ic so­cial­ist. In 2006, the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee, which is sep­ar­ate from the 501(c)(4), spent around $60,000 for Sanders’s first cam­paign for Sen­ate. Sanders also spoke at their con­ven­tion in At­lanta in 2007.

Dav­id Duhalde, the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s deputy dir­ect­or, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that his group has also worked on loc­al elec­tions and for Demo­crat­ic Rep. John Con­yers of Michigan.

Duhalde says his or­gan­iz­a­tion is back­ing Sanders be­cause of his sup­port for or­gan­ized labor and rais­ing the min­im­um wage. But DSA also wants more from the sen­at­or.

“Where he’s good on ra­cial justice, we want him to be great on ra­cial justice,” he said.

But there’s also an­oth­er reas­on for back­ing the in­de­pend­ent so­cial­ist’s cam­paign: rais­ing aware­ness about demo­crat­ic so­cial­ism.

“He raises the pro­file of demo­crat­ic so­cial­ism, and he brings people who might not have found a way to ar­tic­u­late what they were feel­ing in­to real­iz­ing they’re so­cial­ists,” Duhalde said.

There’s a cer­tain amount of irony in a so­cial­ist group us­ing a 501(c)(4) to back Sanders, who has made lim­it­ing money in polit­ics an es­sen­tial part of his cam­paign. A tax-ex­empt or­gan­iz­a­tion gen­er­ally is not re­quired to dis­close donor names or ad­dresses, but cer­tain tax-ex­empt polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tions have to re­port the names and ad­dresses of donors who con­trib­ute in the ag­greg­ate of at least $200.

But Sanders’s cri­ti­cism of money in polit­ics, Duhalde said, is not op­posed to activ­ity like that DSA con­ducts.

“He’s really talk­ing about the bil­lion­aire class that’s ex­ploit­ing the 501(c)(4) loop­hole,” he said. “He’s nev­er talked about grass­roots groups.”

Duhalde would prefer for elec­tions to be pub­licly fin­anced cam­paigns. But for the time be­ing, he’ll have to settle for sup­port­ing a can­did­ate who would make it so small groups don’t need to pull money to­geth­er.

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